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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 10356


Mr DANBY (8:39 PM) —I present the report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to the 54th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference in Malaysia and to Thailand from 4 to 15 August 2008. The report I have tabled reports on the parliamentary delegation, of which I was the deputy leader, to the 54th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association annual conference in Malaysia and a bilateral visit to Thailand in August this year. The delegation’s visit was very successful and I thank my fellow delegates: Senator the Hon. Alan Ferguson, who was still President of the Senate at the time, and was leader of the delegation; Senator the Hon. Bill Heffernan; Mr Barry Haase MP; and Mr Graham Perrett MP. I also thank my then senior adviser, Gerard Martin, and the delegation secretary, David Elder, who is one of our very competent clerks.

The delegation commenced with attendance at the 54th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference hosted by the Malaysian parliament. The theme of the conference was ‘Expanding the role of parliament in global society: environment, development and security’. The conference plenaries and workshop sessions provided the opportunity for our delegates to contribute to the sessions and to learn from other delegates about issues within their countries and parliaments. The conference also provided us with the opportunity to engage with parliamentarians from other Commonwealth countries on a more informal basis.

While I think it is fair to say that the delegation found aspects of the conference and its format a little frustrating, overall the conference was well organised and the delegation extends its congratulations and thanks to the Malaysian parliament for the success of the conference and the election of a Malaysian as head of the CPA. I also thank the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, led by the High Commissioner, Ms Penny Williams, for briefing the delegation and assisting the delegation during its visit.

The delegation’s visit to Thailand was both very worthwhile and very informative. The delegation’s visit provided the opportunity to strengthen Australia’s already strong ties with Thailand. There is scope to improve the people-to-people ties—I kept noting with the Speaker that we have nearly one million Australian tourists visiting Thailand every year. The delegation explored both that and our trading relationship. The visit, in particular, strengthened relationships at the parliamentary level, and it is hoped that this foundation can be built on in the future. Since visiting Thailand I have some doubts about the benefits for Australia of the Thailand-Australia Free Trade Agreement, which are set out on my website.

Thailand continues to undergo considerable political turmoil as it struggles to ensure that democracy achieves a firm foundation in Thai political culture. We met Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, who—not because of our presence!—was forced from office soon after we had left. The delegation was able to be briefed on a number of defence, law enforcement and immigration issues that are of mutual concern to Australia and Thailand. In particular, we had important meetings with TACHIN, the Thai-Australian Collaboration in HIV Nutrition, and I commend the Australian government, AusAID, the two very dedicated Australian doctors who work long-term with TACHIN and the great work that TACHIN does. We also had a very important meeting with the Thai Bomb Data Centre, which is their primary anti-terrorist organisation.

Finally, the delegation had the opportunity to visit a number of key sites on the Burma-Thailand railway, on which a large number of prisoners of war, including thousands of Australians, worked during World War II. The delegation visited such famous sites as the bridge on the River Kwai and Hellfire Pass. To hear the very moving narration of Sir John Carrick, a former senator of this parliament, and Tom Uren as you go through Hellfire Pass was one of the most interesting experiences I have had internationally. I urge all Australians who visit Hellfire Pass to participate in that audio program. It is very moving, and the museum that Australia has set up there is well worth seeing by all Australians. The visits were a very moving experience for all the delegation, and we gained at least some appreciation of the suffering and sacrifice of so many prisoners of war.

I would like to thank the Thai parliament for hosting us, and in particular the Speaker of the House of Representatives, His Excellency Mr Chai Chidchob, and the President of the Senate, His Excellency Mr Prasobsuk Boondech. I also thank the staff of the Australian Embassy in Bangkok, led by our very capable ambassador, Paul Grigson, for their excellent assistance during the visit.